I never could get into the online games and other trappings, but Facebook was still one of my guilty online pleasures. Well, not exactly guilty; many of my friends are on it and that’s how we correspond.
Put all that in the past tense. By the end of this week, I will shut my Facebook account down. It’s not so much that it’s a waste of time — though in many respects it is — but the Facebook interface has gone from bad to worse.
Like it or not, Facebook is a big phenomenon in the online world. It started some years ago as an interactive message board, and from there it grew legs. By itself it made that other groundbreaking social media site, MySpace, into an irrelevancy. OK, MySpace helped Facebook along by being the overloaded piece of junk that it is. For a long time, Facebook’s big appeal in the social media world was that it wasn’t MySpace.
I’d written extensively about Facebook’s problems, mostly in the privacy realm. But many of these privacy issues in the past could be chased down to that great void that sits between chair and keyboard. If the computer operator is brain dead, then all sorts of weird things will happen with the computer.
I’ve noticed recently, though, that Facebook is playing it fast and loose with user privacy. Several new settings were implemented over the past few months, and all of these — though billed as something that would enrich your Facebook experience — tend to “share” your personal settings with everybody.
As I write this, I have a modest 104 friends on Facebook. Unlike many social media users, these are people I actually know. I’ve met nearly all of them, and the few I haven’t met I’ve corresponded with enough to call them friends.
A Facebook employee, in an off-the-record chat with New York Times reporter Nick Bilton said that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg really doesn’t give a rip about your privacy:
@nickbilton: Off record chat w/ Facebook employee. Me: How does Zuck feel about privacy? Response: [laughter] He doesn’t believe in it.
Bilton’s original tweet, and it sure triggered a firestorm online. OK, you can debate this point here from a journalistic standpoint and from a factual one, but this statement certainly lines up with many of the changes I’ve seen on Facebook.
The final straw came Saturday night, when I got a video from a friend of mine. The still-shot preview showed a nearly-naked young woman, viewed from the hip. Now, I’m scratching my head. This friend of mine is a family man, one of the most honorable people I know, a good Southern Baptist, and just what is this all about? What didn’t help is that the caption called this an “optical illusion.”
OK. I’ll bite.
While I bit, I was told my video viewer was out of date. I was asked if I wanted to download a new viewer. Now, I’m thinking. I use Opera 10.50, which for Linux is still in alpha. I mean, my software is bleeding-edge stuff; why should my viewer be out of date? Like an idiot I clicked on it.
A couple of things then happened:
1) The video was automatically sent to many people on my friends’ list.
2) The .exe file to the viewer sat in my /home/download file. I noted the name and ran a Google search. The program in question, flvdirect.exe, is billed as something that would help download torrents but is actually spyware. It’ll do all sorts of nefarious things on your hard drive and it monitors your surfing habits.
For the next hour or so, I heated up my high-speed Internet line. Running Google searches on the offending software. Firing instant messages back and forth with a Facebook (actually a real) friend who also got the video — from me. Posting my findings on Facebook. I finally got to bed at 2 a.m., exhausted. Spreading malware sure is hard work.
The flvdirect.exe file did not affect my computer. I use a Linux system, which is immune to junk like that. The friend I exchanged messages with runs a Mac, which like Linux is also built off the lock-tight UNIX operating system. If I was using a Windows box it might be a different story.
All this episode did was spread on my Facebook account, and perhaps made my friends wonder if I’d flipped out. It robbed me of some valued sleep, and when you look like me you need all the beauty sleep you can get.
And it ticked me off. Completely. Enough to convince me to shut down Facebook.
OK, folks. Here’s how this works. I still have two active email addresses; you can catch me at either one. I have two phone numbers; if you have one of those numbers you can give me a holler if you need to (those who don’t have the number, well, there’s a reason for that). I have my blog; those who read my posts on Facebook can read the exact same stuff there or even grab the RSS feed for your news raleader. For social media I have Twitter and LinkedIn, and if you’re at least 50 years old you can catch my old folks’ social media page at Eons. So it’s not like I’m disappearing off the face of the earth, or even off the Web. Shoot, I make my living on the Internet; I’m not about to shut that down.
But Facebook? That’s a whole ‘nother matter.
If you use Facebook and have a Windows system, keep your virus checker and spyware screening system up to date. Seriously. AVG makes an excellent virus checker, it’s free, and I understand it does check for spyware.
Don’t click on weird-looking stuff, EVEN IF A FRIEND SENDS IT.
Got all that? Good.
In the next few days I’ll be checking on other social-media options, and reporting on them. All of these, by the way, will feed directly into my Facebook page so they can be read there. If you access my material from there, you’d better read it fast before I shut the whole thing down.
Here’s the upshot: If you’re comfortable with the direction Facebook is going, by all means use it and enjoy it. But since I’m not comfortable with any of that, you can deal me out.